We salute the designer of the Pittsburgh Penguins logo for accomplishing the seemingly impossible: Transforming a flightless, waddling bird into an aggressive, determined and intimidating beast with a hockey stick.
Hmmmm. We wonder what that designer could do with an aardvark. Or a cricket.
The question crossed our minds earlier this week when we came across a 1967 Post-Gazette article about the naming of our favorite National Hockey League team. Early that year, Pittsburghers had suggested a total of 356 monikers for what was the city’s newest entry into professional sports. Unthreatening animals were a theme, of sorts. One name put forward: the Pussycats. Mice shuddered.
A favorite suggestion was the Hornets, already name of the city’s longtime American Hockey League team. But that name was unavailable — it belonged to the AFL franchise that was moving out to make way for the as-yet-unnamed National Hockey League expansion team.
Naming of the team was a public affair. Three organizations — the Post-Gazette, the Hockey Club of Pittsburgh and Mellon National Bank — conducted a contest in which Pittsburghers were asked to send in suggestions.
Hockey fans dropped names into boxes at the Civic Arena and Mellon Bank. Others were sent to the PG. In all, contest organizers were flooded with 26,400 entries.
Some of the suggestions were predictable. Among them the Pipers, the Pioneers and the Golden Triangles. Others, like the Zeniths and the Queens, caused a bit of head scratching.
Entries were sent to a selection committee that eventually chose a name submitted by 716 different people.
The winner, of course: The Penguins.
“It seemed natural,” committee member Pete Block told the PG. “The penguin lives on ice; hockey players make their living on ice. And then there is the nickname of ‘Big Igloo’ which has become a part of the Civic Arena.”
Not everyone was happy with the choice. In fact, an anti-penguin faction complained the name didn’t fit the sport. Penguins can’t fly, they argued. Heck, penguins don’t even have wings. They have flippers. And they may be cute, but they certainly don’t inspire fear.
In the years since, Pittsburgh and its hockey team have redefined what it means to be a penguin — at least here in Western Pennsylvania. If you don’t believe us, believe the internet. We typed “penguin” in the Google search bar here at the PG. The first entry? “Pittsburgh Penguins.”
We scanned the pictures that accompany this post from a selection of negatives stored in an envelope labeled “Hockey 1967.” They capture play during a Pittsburgh Hornets game against the Quebec Aces at the Civic Arena, and they’re unusual in that newspaper’s rarely shot color film of sports action.
The 1966-67 season was the end of the line for the Hornets. The team was leaving town to make way for the Penguins. Still, the Wasps, as headline writers liked to call them, finished with a fantastic flourish, winning the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup in a four-game sweep of defending champion Rochester.
The Hornets won the final game 4-3 in overtime. Champagne flowed in the locker room but it wasn’t big news in Pittsburgh. In fact, the Pittsburgh Press gave the Hornets story second billing to a Pirate victory over St. Louis. And attendance? Well, slightly over 5,000 fans attended the final game at the Civic Arena. Half the seats were empty.
Those who did show up were a devoted lot. Upon leaving the arena, one young fan gave a thought to the future. “Who needs the Penguins?,” he shouted.
Today, we believe we could give him an answer.